Signing day notes: Vista Ridge’s Jaylen Thomas is lone local football player headed to Air Force
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Vista Ridge senior Jaylen Thomas signs with Air Force, where he will play safety. (BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE)

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Jaylen Thomas gave up his natural position to help his team make a playoff run as a senior.

He’ll soon give up his civilian lifestyle to follow his football dreams at the next level.

But the smile the Vista Ridge senior wore at his signing day ceremony Wednesday showed he’s quite all right with the sacrifices.

“I’ve got butterflies for it already,” Thomas said Wednesday, thinking ahead to the day he reports for basic training at Air Force.

Thomas signed with the Falcons at an afternoon ceremony he shared with Wolves teammate Malique McKay, who is headed to Chadron State. The pair nearly filled the school’s commons area with friends and family.

Vista Ridge coach Jerimi Calip said Thomas’ work ethic and discipline allowed him to have the flexibility to make a midseason switch as a senior from do-it-all offensive weapon to a grind-it-out wildcat quarterback, a move that also required him to give up much of his role on defense. And he believes it will serve him well in the future.

“The amount of pressure that he’s going to have on him just to be a student athlete at the academy – he’s built for it,” Calip said. “He’s just that kind of kid. I really think he’s going to excel there and do really well.”

Air Force cannot comment on recruits, but in giving Thomas a spot at the prep school it shows it is willing to invest in the player it intends to use at safety.

Thomas, born and raised in Colorado Springs, admits he hasn’t always been a close Air Force fan (he was partial to Florida State as a kid). But he said that has changed in recent years and he’s excited to play close to home.

Thomas is Air Force’s only local signee this season.


Scoping out the competition? Better use a wide lens

Army and Navy are obviously Air Force’s top recruiting foes, and in most years at least a third of the players the Falcons sign at least had some level of interest from the other service academies.

But beyond that, Air Force’s competition is extremely varied. This year, players with offers from Air Force ended up at these programs: Power Five teams California, Colorado, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and UCLA. Group of Five teams Eastern Michigan, New Mexico State, Rice and Utah State. There were some lost to the Ivy League (Princeton and Dartmouth), some to Division II (Colorado School of Mines and CSU-Pueblo) and one to a junior college.

On the flip side, Air Force landed recruits who had offers from every level ranging from NAIA to Power Five programs Colorado, Rutgers, Vanderbilt and Washington State.


Class of 2018 tidbits

There were some interesting stories and personalities with this year’s class. Among them was the story of Chase Bradley, a defensive back from Austin, Texas. Bradley raised $57,000 for cancer research after his sister had beaten the disease. For his efforts he was given a $2,500 scholarship. He then donated that money to a fellow student who had recently overcome cancer.

The Air Force Academy is no stranger to religious controversies, particularly with graduate Mikey Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation frequently pointing out issues it believes favor Christianity. In this climate, it will be interesting to track the experiences of linebacker Omar Fattah, a devout Muslim who told DiMoro Sports, “My biggest passion is my religion. Being a Muslim nowadays in society, it can be difficult, especially, these days with Islamophobia. A lot of people nowadays don’t know what it means to be a Muslim. The meaning of Islam itself, it derives from the word peace. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.”

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